Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
I have always been fascinated of the story of the Titanic. Ever since I was little I have watched all the specials on the tragic ending of one of the world’s most fascinating cruise ships over and over again.
We all know about the iceberg and how the ship went down and we have all read the vast numbers of heroic rescue stories, but did you ever know about the dogs aboard the Titanic? Until Thursday, I never did. All the programs that I have ever watched and all the books that I have ever read about this ship never mentioned dogs.
I was amazed to find that there were at least 12 dogs on the ship the day it sank.
So today instead of highlighting the stories that we all already know I thought it would be nice to highlight a dozen passengers who have not received the attention that they so well deserve.
According to National Geographic some of the canines aboard the Titanic included John Jacob Astor’s airedale Kitty, publisher Henry Sleeper Harper’s prize Pekingese Sun Yat-Sen . Philadelphia banker Robert W. Daniel brought with him a champion French bulldog that he had purchased in England.
Three dogs survived the sinking of the Titanic, 2 Pomeranians and a Pekingese, who were small enough to fit on the lap of their owners or hide unknowingly in inside there owners coats.
Other animals and their owners were not so fortunate. Mrs. Johanna Stunke, a passenger on the Bremen, a ship that went to the scene and reported nearly 100 bodies in the water, described seeing the body of a woman with her arms still clasped tightly around a shaggy canine.
A Fox Terrier named Dog, an Airedale named Kitty, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and another Airedale were among other dogs that lost their life that day.
When I first read about the dogs aboard the Titanic, I had read this article, which makes mention of a Newfoundland dog named Rigel. Rigel was said to have jumped off the ship when it was sinking in search of his master, first officer William McMaster Murdoch.
When Rigel could not locate his master he took to swimming alongside the passengers in Lifeboat 4.
Two hours later, the Carpathia arrived and began rescuing survivors. By this time Lifeboat 4 was said to have drifted away from the cluster of the other lifeboats and was out of view of the Carpathia. As the Carpathia began to pull away from the area it was directly headed in the path of Lifeboat 4. The passengers aboard the lifeboat were too weak to shout at the ship to alert them that they were there. Yet Rigel, was strong enough to let out a loud bark. Carpathia’s captain heard the bark and ordered the ship to stop, thus saving the passengers from Lifeboat 4.
An amazing story, but according to National Geographic, it is just that, a fictional story. Apparently, a seamen from the Carpathia made the story up when giving an interview with a local newspaper reporter and no one has been able to verify that there actually was a Newfoundland named Rigel associated with the Titanic.
Fictional story or not, it warmed my heart and I can close my eyes and totally picture this big black Newfie swimming along side Lifeboat 4.
A new exhibit at the Widener University Art Gallery in Chester, PA will include a section on the dogs that perished on the Titanic’s voyage.
The exhibit is produced and curated by J. Joseph Edgette, Ph.D. His research has mostly focused on Philadelphians who were on the cruise, such as the Widener family for whom Widener University is named. However, he said he was touched and intrigued by the dogs that were also on the cruise.
“There is such a special bond between people and their pets. For many, they are considered to be family members,” Edgette said. “I don’t think any Titanic exhibit has examined that relationship and recognized those loyal family pets that also lost their lives on the cruise.”